The Affordable Care Act removes co-payments for preventive services, among them FDA-approved contraceptives for women enrolled in most insurance plans. The policy has generated controversy for many reasons. Not least of them are claims that easy access to birth control encourages early and frequent sexual activity, especially among teenagers, with an increase in unintended pregnancies and abortions as a likely consequence.
As passionate as the battle gets over contraceptive and abortion rights, there is genuine concern, among advocates and opponents alike, to drive down the rates of unintended pregnancies and abortions. The results of a research study from Washington University in St. Louis offer substantive data, pointing to a policy approach that demonstrates the potential for significant declines in unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates.
The study involved more than 9,200 women in the St. Louis area from 2008 to 2010. Given a choice of contraceptives, free of charge, the majority chose the long-acting and most effective options such as an intrauterine device or under-the-skin implants. Teens in the study group recorded 6.3 births per 1,000 in 2010, well below the a national rate of 34 per 1,000. The abortion rate in the study also was sharply lower, averaging 6 per 1,000 women compared to the nation’s 20 per 1,000 or the 10 per 1,000 in the St. Louis region.
To be sure, unintended pregnancies and abortions have declined considerably in recent years, the contributors including public education campaigns. This study offers evidence to support free access to contraceptives as part of the mix.